Carol Bacchi: Approaches to Gender Mainstreaming What's the Problem (represented to be)?

Introduction: Gender mainstreaming is the term used increasingly in Europe, in some other countries and in major international organizations, such as the ILO and the World Bank, to describe a new approach to achieving “gender equality”. Its appearance in Australia is more recent. I refer here to the identification of mainstreaming by Pru Goward (2004), Australia’s Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, as the Howard Liberal Government’s preferred approach to gender equity. Forms of gender analysis, systematic procedures to detect gender bias in policies, are offered as methods to achieve mainstreaming.

Theoretically gender mainstreaming and gender analysis reflect a commitment to institutionalise gender equality concerns throughout the whole organization, instead of leaving these matters to specialist “equal opportunity” units, which tend to be marginalised from decision-making. The argument here is that isolating gender equity from the “mainstream” business of an organization has meant that women have been encouraged to adopt existing organizational norms and practices, instead of making organizations women-friendly. According to Teresa Rees (1998, p. 41) a shift to mainstreaming means that “the transformation of institutions becomes the agenda, rather than the continuing attempt to improve women’s access and performance within organizations and their hierarchies as they are.”

However, there is increasing concern in a number of quarters that mainstreaming does not necessarily deliver on its promise. In some cases those very units dedicated to pursuing “equal opportunity” have been disbanded on the grounds that they are no longer needed, since “gender” is now “mainstreamed”. …